Posted Oct. 10, 2008 – A man who faced sentencing in a double slaying was granted a new trial Thursday, a result of his lawyer challenging testing of evidence examined at the now-closed Detroit crime lab.
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Authorities agree this is the first case to unravel from the crime lab debacle as it continues to unfold, but no one is willing to say how many convictions and guilty pleas may fall apart as the extent of botched lab work is revealed.
"Of course this is precedent-setting," said Detroit defense attorney Marvin Barnett, whose client, Jarrhod Williams, was granted a new trial. "Remember, I didn't even have to fight to get a new trial."
Barnett came to court Thursday hoping to call employees of the crime lab to testify about the bungled evidence in a motion to dismiss his case, reports The Detroit Free Press. Instead, Wayne County Circuit Judge David Allen allowed Williams, 21, of Detroit to withdraw two no-contest pleas to second-degree murder charges stemming from a May 2007 double killing. Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Suzette Samuels did not object and said she is confident she still will get a conviction.
Williams pleaded no contest March 27 during a trial in front of Allen – without a jury – after Barnett hired an investigator, who discovered errors in the ballistics evidence. Williams was on trial for first-degree murder in connection with the shooting deaths of Detroiters DeAngelo Savage, 33, and his 38-year-old friend Tommy Haney when prosecutors offered to let him plead no contest to second-degree murder and serve 12 years in prison.
In Williams' case, Detroit Police lab investigators said 42 shell casings from the double killing were fired from the same weapon. But David Balash, a retired Michigan State Police firearms expert, found that two weapons were used. Acting on Balash's concerns, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy ordered a review of the lab's work on firearms. Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for Worthy, said Williams' case is not necessarily the first in a floodgate of retrials.
"Each case is being evaluated on an individual basis," she said. The prosecutor's office currently is reexamining the past five years' worth of cases that went through the lab, and Miller said she could not estimate how many problematic cases will be identified. "We're still working on the audit process," she said.
Meanwhile, the Wayne County Criminal Defense Bar Association has said the review needs to go back beyond five years, and that an independent review – possibly involving federal investigators – needs to look at all the lab work.